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September 21, 2017

Breaking Down the 2016 Annual Report

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers posted a $2.8 million operating profit in 2016, but had to dip into its excess cash fund to cover its annual stadium cash payment.

The football club released its 2016 financial statement on Wednesday and the report included a four percent decrease in total operating revenue and a three percent drop in average attendance.

On a positive note, corporate partnership revenue grew seven percent.

As well, the club did meet its financial obligations with its third annual excess cash payment to Triple B Stadium Inc. of $4.5 million last December by pulling $1.7 million from its reserves. Worth noting: under terms of the stadium agreement, the annual stadium payment drops to a maximum of $3.5 million in 2017 and $4.4 million in the years following.

All of this, in short, demonstrates how much work the organization still must do to overcome the damage to the brand done over the previous eight years. The Bombers were 11-7 in 2016, posting just their second winning season dating back to 2008.

“As a team we had struggled the past five-six years,” said Winnipeg Football Club President & CEO Wade Miller. “We’re not going to win our fans back overnight. This is something we’re always working on.

“We’re starting to see progress on the field… we just came off a season in which we had our best record since 2003. It’s going to take time for our fans to come back and we totally understand that.”

“We’re working on making the game day experience better every year and with a good start to the season, are hoping more fans will be in the stadium.”

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The key numbers in the financial report included:

  • Total operating revenue was $27.1 million, a decrease of four per cent from 2015, primarily due to a drop in non-football events held at Investors Group Field. In 2015, the stadium hosted the Grey Cup, the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and concerts featuring AC/DC and One Direction. Last year the lone non-football event was the NHL Heritage Classic.
    This year’s events include the Canadian women’s national soccer team hosting Costa Rica in a friendly on June 8th and Guns N’ Roses on August 24th. Those dates are critical in the club making its annual stadium payments.
    “We work hard to bring in multiple events and last year there were less non-football events,” Miller said. “This year we’re trending to have more. Those events are critical in helping us make the (stadium) payment, but there is the expense side to consider as well. When you look at making our payment, we have a large cost every year for transportation, our stadium operation costs are substantially higher than anyone would have anticipated, in addition to the fact the club has invested over $15 million into finishing the stadium.”
  • Overall operating expenses were $24.2 million, an increase of $300,000 over 2015. Included in that were a 2.8 per cent increase in football operations expenses, a good chunk coming from the increased travel costs associated with heading to Vancouver for the West Division Semi-final.
  • Average attendance was down to 25,936 from 26,746, or 810 fans per game. Those numbers were disappointing given a seven-game win streak as part of a run to the playoffs, but were also the result of a poor start – 1-4, including two home losses – and then an iffy schedule.
    The Bombers didn’t secure their first home victory until Week 7, a victory over Hamilton on August 3rd. On top of that, the seven-game win streak from July 28-Sept. 17 featured a stretch of 36 days – Aug. 5 to Sept. 9, including a bye week – in which the team wasn’t at home.
    “The CFL schedule was not advantageous for us in 2016 and compounding that was our 1-4 start, including not winning our first two home games,” added Miller. “All those things added up to a three percent drop.”

The Bombers played to 77.6 percent capacity in 2016 – the league average was 77.8 per cent – and Miller was asked by bluebombers.com to address the question of whether Investors Group Field, with a capacity of 33,234, was too big for football.

“I think the size of the building is great when we’re able to bring in other big events,” he said. “For a CFL stadium it’s a little bit on the big side, but that also works when we’re hosting events like the Banjo Bowl and other big games. Plus, if you don’t have a big enough venue, you’re not getting concerts and that helps us generate more revenue to offset the costs of the stadium.

“If you actually look at our average attendance, in three other stadiums in the CFL (Montreal, Ottawa and Hamilton) our numbers would be considered sell outs.”

“Obviously, though, the experience is better when there are more fans in here and we’re working on that.”

Miller said season ticket numbers are trending to meet last year’s total. Asked if those totals were disappointing given the turnaround last year he added:

“We’ve got to prove ourselves. This just didn’t happen overnight and getting our fans back to buy season tickets isn’t going to happen overnight, either. It was a positive year in 2016. We’ve always got work to do. We’re up to the challenge, so let’s go.”